Read the Fine Print When Purchasing Car Insurance to Avoid Rude Awakening at the Time of an Accident

As a personal injury attorney, I’ve heard this terrible story far too many times Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public are out driving with their two daughters 8 and 10 when a speeding drunk driver runs a red-light striking their car broadside. Mr. and Mrs. Public escape with cuts and bruises, but their daughters sustain injuries to their head, neck and backs. Mr. and Mrs. Public eventually come to see me to discuss what legal rights and rights and recourse they have against the drunk driver.

My first question is what automobile insurance coverage did they have? The Publics respond with puzzled looks. Mr. Public asks: Why am I asking about his insurance, when the other guy was at fault? His reply: While he hadn’t read his policy his insurance agent told him that he had “full coverage.” Mr. Public then hands me his insurance declarations page. I note the dreaded “no B.I.” and “U.M. rejected.” I look at the police report and note that the drunk driver had been cited for many things, including “no insurance.”

I have the thankless task of explaining to Mr. and Mrs. Public that “full coverage” is nothing more than insurance jargon for the minimum requirements to register and insure a vehicle. I go on to explain that their coverage for this accident would be limited to payments for some of their medical bills, lost wages and for third-party property damage, with no coverage for the pain and suffering their family had sustained and would sustain in the future, because of the gross negligence of the drunk driver.

I see the proverbial “little bulb” go on over their heads as they begin to understand that without uninsured motorist coverage they would be limited to a lawsuit against and individual who, in all probability, would be found to be without assets and therefore judgment-proof. And I see the anger well up in Mr. Public as he says: “There ought to be a law against this kind of thing.”

I wholeheartedly agree. What is desperately needed is for the state Legislature to pass an Automobile Insurance Bill of Rights that compels insurance companies, their agents and the insured to execute an affidavit of coverage disclosure attesting that the benefits of uninsured motorist coverage have been made known to the customer.

Consumers must understand that if they purchase bodily injury liability coverage, they will have uninsured motorists limits equal to the limits of their bodily injury liability coverage, unless they specifically reject uninsured motorist coverage. If consumers do reject uninsured motorist coverage, they must understand that if they are in an accident with an individual who is uninsured, or does not carry enough coverage, they will not be able to make any claim for compensation against their own policy.

But the consumer need not wait for the state to act. The consumer should question his or her agent and carefully read all paperwork.

I tell all of my clients that is better to pay for the coverage and never need it than to need it and not have it. Above all, if your agent has told you that you have “full coverage,” remember the Public family. Be wary, be skeptical, and don’t believe it until you review the fine print.